Helping Kids Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

When a loved one lives with Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia, all family members are affected—including children and grandchildren.  It is important to talk to children about what is happening; however, what, and how much, information you share will depend on the child’s age and relationship to the patient.

For example, you might gently explain to a younger child that Grandpa has an illness that makes it hard for him to remember things or that causes him to act in an unfamiliar way.  More detail may be helpful to an older child, though some may find the situation hard to accept and could become increasingly embarrassed, or uncomfortable, around the patient.

Reactions of sadness and/or anger are normal.  Some children may not vocalize their feelings, but you may observe changes in their behavior. Problems at school, with friends, or at home could signify they are upset. Speaking with a school counselor or social worker can help children to better understand what is happening and offer ways for them to cope.  Keep in mind it is best not to force children to spend time with the patient if they feel uncomfortable.  Doing so could make the situation more difficult for everyone.

There are ways to help younger family members maintain a strong bond with a loved one living with Alzheimer’s, or dementia, such as working together on simple arts and crafts projects, listening to music, or reading stories out loud. There are also many books, articles, websites, and other resources available to help children better understand the illness.

Caregiving takes time and patience, but caregivers with children should remember that in addition to their patient, they need to spend quality time with their children as well, so they do not feel ignored.